It’s in your head

My kids are lucky. Thanks to Amazon and The Honest Company, we rarely drag them through a store.

When I do take my 6-year-old on the occasional Target or local grocery store outing, I’m hit on the head with marketing and usability lessons within the psychology at play.

Here are the ones I find myself thinking about in my work lately:

1.  Choice is powerful. But too much creates stress and drama.

Somewhere along the parenting line I learned that giving my child a choice between two objects can be a good strategy for getting her motivated and me to where I need to be on time.

The key here is two objects. Offer her dozens of options – like the shelves in a store aisle – and the choice game has the opposite effect.

This truth becomes evident in usability studies. Visit a web page that has one clear path of action or a choice between two and you feel right away how easy it is to click and explore more. On the other hand, visit a web page that has a half dozen different calls to action, and you’re immediately frozen.

Too much information. Too much choice. Too many features. These things can kill your conversions.

Think about this: Apple right now earns the highest profits of any company in the world – $39.5 billion in 2014 – yet it sells less than 10 products.

Simplicity and lack of choice can be good if done right. Really good.

2. The human brain is wired to want more when it experiences something pleasurable.

A couple of months ago, my 1-year-old daughter’s nanny taught her a few basic words in sign language. The one that stuck and she now uses the most? The sign for “please”.

We can expect to see this sign being thrown aggressively at the dinner table if the food is good. In other words, give her something great and she instinctively wants more, please.

I’ve observed the same in my 6-year-old. Give her a few rides on the bouncy slide at the Saturday farmer’s market and she wants a balloon. Give her the balloon and she wants candy. It’s a natural human behavior to react to something good by wanting more.

How this translates to marketing is simple: Give your prospect or customer something of value up front and they will stick with you longer. They instinctively want more.

When I first started writing about real estate, the thing of value that all consumers wanted was listings. Obviously, things are much different now. Listings are everywhere. While they still retain value, their proliferation has made them less unique and therefore less valuable in terms of differentiation. (See my recent post for more discussion on this.)

Think strategically about the “thing of value” you can offer your website visitors that will excite them and leave them wanting more. It may be content. Or it may simply be a new experience around listings no one’s done or done well before.

3. Saying no makes the desire for the forbidden object approximately 1,000 times stronger.

What is it about the word no that has the exact opposite effect on the brain? The more I say it to my kids the more they resist and want whatever is being withheld.

The marketing parallel here is scarcity. This tactic is cleverly used in startup world by opening up a product or service as “invite only”. I’ve fallen for these dozens of times over the years. Remember Ello? The ad-free Facebook alternative launched two years ago by invitation only, which made it all the more intriguing to those who hadn’t yet received their golden ticket.

Sometimes just the act of being selective can make your customers or your agents feel special. Those 10,000 no’s I uttered throughout the store aisles made that one yes to ice cream afterwards seem so rewarding.

The bottom line

So much of marketing is about psychology. This simple exercise of observation has convinced me that observing human behavior is as important as reading books, attending conferences and classes when it comes to learning how to create effective marketing.

I’ve also realized my kids are in many ways smarter than me. Without any calculated strategy, they’ve used each of these tactics on me at some point.

I may have to schlep them out to the store more often.